In a first for the Commonwealth Games, the Melbourne 2006 Opening Ceremony occurred both inside and outside the stadium, with a significant river component.

The Yarra River flows past the Melbourne Cricket Ground, providing an innovative path for the final stage of the Queen's baton relay and a 'stage' for nightly 'river shows', held throughout the fortnight of the Games. The Yarra River is more than a stage for the Opening Ceremony and river shows, however. It became part of an ethereal floating scene in the Opening Ceremony segment My Skin, My Life, recalling the powerful connection between the river and the MCG site for the Aboriginal people of the Melbourne region. The Yarra is a significant part of life in Melbourne. Fondly known as the "upside down river" for its brown colour, this gentle waterway has provided water, a pathway through the city and a place of recreation for many generations of Melburnians. The River Show took 14 months to create. As well as being a central element of the Opening Ceremony, parts of the show were repeated every night of the games. Planning was complex, requiring precise timing and skill to coordinate the many elements of the show. This included the idea of having 18 surf lifesaving boats bearing the emblems of the previous 18 Commonwealth Games, and 36 Couta boats towing the flags of the 71 Commonwealth nations, to form a pathway for the Queen's Baton in the final minutes of the Relay before arriving at the MCG. This idea was abandoned following heavy rain a few days before the Ceremony was staged. Instead, the flag-pontoons were positioned several days before the ceremony was staged. Pontoons, each featuring two six-metre sculptures of marine creatures from Commonwealth nations, spray water jets and spectacular fireworks during the show. Construction of the pontoons began in August 2005. Scale models of several of the creatures were made, but most were made directly from detailed drawings by Mothers Art, a Melbourne-based design and production company. They were built from metal, foam, fabric and found materials on steel frames. Many of the marine creatures have eyes made from vegetable steamers and colanders. The whole flotilla was ready for the River Show by 13 February 2006, one month before the Opening Ceremony was held.

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